Sri Lanka tourism limps back after bombings, figures show

Colombo (AFP) –


Tourism in Sri Lanka suffered a huge blow after the Easter bombings that killed 258 people including 45 foreigners, but official figures Wednesday showed a modest recovery.

The industry, which before the April attacks had expected a record number of foreign holidaymakers in 2019 on the back of rave reviews in international travel magazines, saw arrivals plummet in May.

The number of tourists dived to just 37,800 in May, down from 166,975 in the previous month, and 129,500 a year earlier, Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority figures showed.

But the figures also showed an uptick since, with some 63,000 visitors arriving in June, a 66-percent increase compared to May, but still way below the June 2018 figure of 146,828.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said last week that the damage to tourism from the April 21 attacks was less than intially feared.

Even in the aftermath of the attacks, domestic tourists filled hotels which were able to retain staff and remain in business.

Samaraweera had initially predicted that Sri Lanka could lose 30 percent of its tourism revenues, or about $1.5 billion, this year.

But now he believes the loss will be less than $1 billion.

The total number of holiday makers hit a record 2.33 million in 2018, up 10.3 percent compared to 2017.

This year was expected to be another record high with arrivals jumping five percent in the first quarter before the Easter attacks devastated three churches and three luxury hotels.

Sri Lanka topped the Best in Travel 2019 rankings of Lonely Planet, and this week the travel guide said the country remained its top pick.

Many countries have softened their travel warnings on Sri Lanka which is, however, under a state of emergency since the attacks that also left nearly 500 people wounded.